The other night I was surfing the net, listening to music, meandering through different music genres and ages and realized that numerous popular songs are “borrowed”, many of which are great hits, even classics of pop-rock music. Some of them were taken from old blues, rock and roll and soul performers, like Robert Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson, Chuck Berry, The Supremes, Four Tops etc. Even the greatest rock’n’roll bands and performers, like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Queen, David Bowie, Marvin Gaye and many others get ripped off and it seems than only a few people even notice it.
Moreover, some authors take complete poems or verses from classical poets and sell them as their own words. I must admit I was disappointed by some performers and authors. It seemed totally inappropriate to link the idea of borrowing with some of the established performers. However, things like that happen and we have to accept it as a fact. There are numerous problems caused by stealing other people’s and companies’ ideas. From the already mentioned music industry, over the world of literature, to clothing and automotive industry, an immense number of works and products are copied and counterfeits are being made as we read this article.
If we agree that Sam from the title is a person somewhere in the humanized part of the Milky Way and he (or she; yes, it might be Samantha, as well) is preparing to rip off something you have created, you have to be ready to prevent him (or her) from doing it. So, how can you discourage someone from stealing something you have made and taking credits for your work? There are many mainstream ways, like registering your work under the legal terms and thus preventing all those petty thieves of intellectual property from getting acquainted with your talent and creativity.
What you can also do is sell your copyright to a publishing house (in case of written works), a record label (if you are a musician) or an established visual arts company (for painters and designers). The aforementioned automotive industry companies already have well-established mechanisms and methods for protection of their intellectual property and patents. In that case you will get maximum protection if someone decides to take or “borrow” your idea, because that legal party will defend your rights (and theirs, as well) more efficiently, due to legal mechanisms they have at disposal. However, you have to be aware of that giving your copyright to a company usually means that you simply sell your rights and have no more right to ask for additional income from your work. Taking that into consideration, you should contact a lawyer and put an appendix to your contract so that you keep getting a share of the work you did, if that is negotiable.
Now that we have discussed several ways of protecting your intellectual property, some people might ask “why protecting intellectual property in the first place?” and “is there such a thing as intellectual property?”. A number of established and famous writers, like Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett and J.K. Rowling don’t make a big deal if other authors borrow from their works. These writers and many other people don’t believe in the notion of intellectual property, but rather support the idea that if their word (or a picture) has entered the sphere of public interest and they already sell their books, that then their work is available to be quoted and referred to. Indeed, we can assume that more people heard about Neil Gaiman when he was introduced as a character in The Book Job episode of The Simpsons than before that reference to his work. So, that assumption can lead to a conclusion that he probably sold even more books after that episode, which would mean that it only helped him in further artistic and business endeavors.
Taking several bars of someone’s song, a scene from a film or a verse from a poem doesn’t seem right, but it generally doesn’t put other people’s lives at risk. However, there are some fields of human works where copying originals can lead to terrible disasters. Technological and mechanical frauds and counterfeits are immensely serious, because they can lead to extremely dangerous situations, due to the unknown source of their production.
Take, for example, the automotive industry. If you need a spare part for your vehicle, it might happen that you buy a counterfeit one, meaning that someone somewhere in the world makes identical spare parts for all brands of vehicles and even experts can hardly tell the difference. You might think “well, why worry if the parts are identical?”. They might LOOK the same as originals, but the problem is that you don’t have the guarantee on that part if something goes wrong. Just imagine that you are driving your family to the sea for holidays and it is a hot scorching day.
The horizon is blurry, the sun is baking the remains of the flies on your windshield and you’re all in sweat. You find it hard to keep your focus 100% on the road. Suddenly, a car in front of you starts braking, which makes you press the brake pedal as fiercely as you can. But you can’t brake properly. Your brakes don’t function and you can’t stop your car on time. The tragedy is inevitable. That is a realistic scenario if you don’t have original brake pads and disks and you even don’t know if they are original or not. Due to the hot weather and the high temperature on the road, counterfeit brake pads and disks can change their shape and become unusable. This is just an example of how you can find yourself and your family in danger because someone decided to steal someone’s intellectual property and make unoriginal originals.
The question of ripping off ideas that already exist or borrowing parts from them to finish your own creative puzzle has been here and it seems that it will stay for a long time. It is even more relevant today, due to the expansion of the Internet and the phenomenon of downloading all sorts of files for free and without any permission from copyright owners. While one squad wants to bring that practice to an end and even incarcerate dealers and consumers of illegally distributed data (pro ACTA), the other team is on the same wavelength with the above mentioned artists and they support free flow and sharing of data and ideas (the most radical wing of such thinking being the Anonymous). If you are a creative prodigy, try both ways and come to your own conclusion. The concept of sharing ideas and works freely sounds more like 21st century way of thinking, but we also have to bear in mind that someone’s mind conceived movies we like, songs we listen to, books we read and paintings we buy, so there has to be a fair solution that will make all the involved parties satisfied.